Wise Poets, Wise Poets of the Present

Joy Harjo: Modern Edition of the American Indian Oral Tradition

Joy Harjo: Modern Edition of the American Indian Oral Tradition

Joy Harjo: Modern Edition of the American Indian Oral Tradition

At the beginning of the the 20th century living conditions for Native Americans were so bad life came down to just a day to day struggle for survival. But as conditions began to gradually improve in the 1960’s, so did the quality of public education education for Native American improve, especially in the command of the English language. And what ensued after these improvements was an explosion in English language literary and a Renaissance in the literary arts and a whole cadre of great Native American writers, novelists, and poets, In fact it was Native American poetess Joy Harjo who was the darling of the poetry establishment during this era and would eventually be name Poet Laureate of the United states of America, presently in 2019.

Born on May 9, 1951 in Tulsa , Oklahoma, Harjo has a mixed ancestry of Cherokee, Muscogee Creek, French and Irish and attended the Indian School of the arts after gradation from high school to nurture her creativity and to express herself in her paintings, She went on to attend the University of New Mexico as a premed student but would eventually switch her major to creative writing in order to write poetry.

Harjo is not merely a print poet, however, she is also a performing poet who has carried on the oral tradition by public storytelling, and singing, and by performing her work using voice inflections to hold the attention of her audience, but she has also written many books including An American Sunrise, Crazy Brave, and How We Became Human, and she was named Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

As a performing poet, sound is of the utmost importance Harjo, with image being of close secondary importance to the poet, and her adeptness in both aspects of a poem are aptly demonstrated in her famous poem about Native American women entitled She Had Some Horses.

She Had Some Horses

BY JOY HARJO

I. She Had Some Horses

She had some horses.

She had horses who were bodies of sand.

She had horses who were maps drawn of blood.

She had horses who were skins of ocean water.

She had horses who were the blue air of sky.

She had horses who were fur and teeth.

She had horses who were clay and would break.

She had horses who were splintered red cliff.

She had some horses.

She had horses with eyes of trains.

She had horses with full, brown thighs.

She had horses who laughed too much.

She had horses who threw rocks at glass houses.

She had horses who licked razor blades.

She had some horses.

She had horses who danced in their mothers’ arms.

She had horses who thought they were the sun and their

bodies shone and burned like stars.

She had horses who waltzed nightly on the moon.

She had horses who were much too shy, and kept quiet

in stalls of their own making.

She had some horses.

She had horses who liked Creek Stomp Dance songs.

She had horses who cried in their beer.

She had horses who spit at male queens who made

them afraid of themselves.

She had horses who said they weren’t afraid.

She had horses who lied.

She had horses who told the truth, who were stripped

bare of their tongues.

She had some horses.

She had horses who called themselves, “horse.”

She had horses who called themselves, “spirit,” and kept

their voices secret and to themselves.

She had horses who had no names.

She had horses who had books of names.

She had some horses.

She had horses who whispered in the dark, who were afraid to speak.

She had horses who screamed out of fear of the silence, who

carried knives to protect themselves from ghosts.

She had horses who waited for destruction.

She had horses who waited for resurrection.

She had some horses.

She had horses who got down on their knees for any saviour.

She had horses who thought their high price had saved them.

She had horses who tried to save her, who climbed in her

bed at night and prayed as they raped her.

She had some horses.

She had some horses she loved.

She had some horses she hated.

These were the same horses.

The horse here is being used as a symbol of the different aspects of a Native American woman’s character and illustrates the enigma of the different kinds of people she can be, Some are more spirit than body, as expressed in the first stanza, some were afraid of themselves and some were fearless as in the second stanza, while others were religiously seeking salvation and expecting resurrection while still others were only fit for destruction. But however many aspects there are of this woman, or how she feels about herself (love or hate) she is all one whole person who fits no-one’s stereotype of what a native American woman should be , or women in general. Personally. this reader thinks it’s appropriate that Harjo used the image of a horse to represent people since horses are so necessary to every day life, like the women themselves for these indigenous peoples, and are the international symbol of strength and beauty, making women in all their aspects to be strong and beautiful.

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Samantha Leboeuf
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COME ON DAILY WISDOM WORDS AND FRIENDS!! WRITE YOUR BEST POEM ANOUT ANY SUBJECT AND ENTER NOW TO WIN $300!!

Samantha Leboeuf
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Shirley, this is truly informative, well written and beyond amazing!! Thanks for sharing!’